Thank you, Chair, and thank you to the committee for having me here today.
I'm both a senior research associate at the University of Toronto and the network manager for the National Initiative for the Care of the Elderly, also known as NICE. I'm here today in my capacity as the network manager to represent the board of directors and the scientific director of NICE, who was unable to join us today due to other commitments.
What NICE is here to suggest today is that the foundation for improving the overall quality of life and well-being for older adults, including those factors associated with community programming, social inclusivity, and social determinants of health, is by building capacity among older adults to become mainstream social citizens instead of being ghettoized through separate health and service systems. This foundation also requires new policy and practice responses based on well-funded research and evidence that captures the complex issues facing an aging population.
As an organization, NICE is an international centre for excellence, funded by the national centres of excellence, and is a not-for-profit charitable organization that was initiated in 2005. NICE is a knowledge transfer and exchange network that works to improve the care of older adults in Canada and abroad. We accomplish this by placing valid and reliable knowledge on aging into the hands of those who need it. This includes older adults, their family members, practitioners across disciplines—which includes nursing, social work, and law enforcement, as some of the examples of these disciplines—students, and policy-makers.
NICE accomplishes this work through a few different mechanisms. One mechanism is through research. Another is through the use of theme teams, where our teams are led by a researcher and a practitioner, who do work on different aspects of aging. NICE currently has 12 theme teams, which includes teams working on issues related to elder abuse, dementia care, mental health, dental care, caregiving, and financial literacy, to name a few. The third mechanism is making tools from evidence-based research that has never seen the light of day.
NICE is fortunate to have a very large membership, with close to 4,000 members worldwide and official representation from 14 different countries. We continue to find ways to build up our membership to facilitate access to knowledge on aging around the country and the world. Our international arm, ICCE, the International Collaboration for the Care of the Elderly, gives Canada a world footprint in aging, but benefits us through returns on knowledge about aging and diversity. Our network is an important resource for many, as current professionals are not always up to date. The knowledge base in gerontology and geriatrics remains thin, and attracting new students to the field is still a challenge.
NICE has conducted research regionally, nationally, and internationally. This has provided us with important insights and lessons. As a result, the work we have undertaken at NICE has been evidence-based, and as a result we have developed over 200 tools in various languages to help improve the care of the elderly. These tools have been developed from the research we have conducted—I will speak specifically about this research today—and we focus on those insights that can provide us with the opportunity to work with older adults and improve the overall quality of life and well-being for seniors.
From the NICE perspective, it is crucial that decisions are made with older adults and not for older adults, that one of the ways to do this is to fund more gerontological research that partners in a meaningful way with older adults in Canada, and that we make sure we translate this knowledge to action through evidence-based changes to policy and practice.
We achieved a historic milestone in Canada last year, with Canadian older adults outnumbering their counterparts for the first time in our nation's history. This milestone was met with hope and optimism as older adults, in general, are living longer, are healthier, and are wealthier. However, we at NICE have also met this milestone with renewed efforts in our research, our training, and education programming to further improve the quality of life for more older adults.
When we look beyond the general experiences of older adults in our country, and the average older Canadian, we get a better view of the most vulnerable populations needing support. Our research has specifically focused on those populations, and includes victims of elder abuse; older members of the aboriginal community; those who are socially isolated, and often from diverse and rural communities; grandparents who are parenting again in later life; older adults who may not be financially literate; those living in poverty, mainly older women; those vulnerable to grey divorce or financial abuse and exploitation; and those who are unable to access quality end-of-life care with respect to hospice and palliative care.
As a dimension of unequal social citizenship, older adults are frequently subject to ageism, which is manifest in many subtle ways through discrimination in the workplace, transportation, the denial of the right to quality care, and ghettoized housing and services.
If older adults are not treated like all other citizens, they're often socially excluded within their own communities. NICE is firmly committed to the perspective that older adults are indeed adult citizens and have the right to be responsible for themselves.
Social citizenship for older adults has been identified as a priority topic in Canada by the Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology, Employment and Social Development Canada, the National Seniors Council, and the Ontario seniors strategy, to name a few. Social citizenship, broadly defined, suggests equality of status in society and the right to membership of a community, the right to economic welfare and security. When we link this to quality of life and the social determinants of health applied to an aging population, the importance of social citizenship becomes even clearer. Although the research on the implications of differing rights and opportunities and social citizenship is very thin and limited, research has shown that approximately one in four older adults in Canada desire greater social involvement within their communities. Social inclusion was identified as a priority topic for social determinants of well-being.
Social isolation has also been flagged as a major health and social problem in older adults, and is not a normal part of aging. In particular, persons from diverse ethnic backgrounds may be at higher risk for social isolation, since they may be recent immigrants and may not be fluent in English. Social isolation is a complex issue, and may be a result of physical and social environments that are not built to support older persons and may be age-unfriendly.
To conclude, NICE is committed to the development of evidence-based knowledge supported by designated funding for research with older vulnerable populations, and for better training of gerontological geriatric students, policy-makers, and practitioners. Most critically, the straightforward education of older persons themselves sends the message that they can become active citizens, and are expected to be active citizens, contributing to Canadian society.
Again, we at NICE would like to emphasize the importance of research in gerontology and geriatrics that may better inform the directions we take in developing a national seniors strategy that matches the realities of a new generation of older adults in Canada.
Thank you very much.